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Speech by the Minister of Defence, Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D.,
at the donation of an Alouette III to the Ulster Aviation Society and the Launch of “The Irish Air Corps – An Illustrated Guide”

Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel 27th May 2009

Assistant Secretary General, Deputy Chief of Staff, General Officer Commanding the Air Corps, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be back in Casement Aerodrome this afternoon and to have been able to donate an Alouette III to Mr. Raymond Burroughs, Vice Chairman of the Ulster Aviation Society.

In recent years the Air Corps fleet has been augmented by the addition of six AW 139 utility helicopters and two EC135 light utility helicopters. These six new AW 139s provide the Air Corps with a very significant fleet and enables them to work in close co-operation with the Army in all facets of their operations. A total of €86 million has been spent on the purchase of this helicopter fleet. The purchase of this hardware is proof of the Government’s commitment to ensure that all branches of the Defence Forces are fully equipped to carry out their day- to- day roles.

I am very conscious of the Air Corp’s proud and distinguished past and of the desire of many aviation enthusiasts on both sides of the border, military and civil alike, to preserve as much of its heritage as possible. I was delighted to be able to give the go ahead to make this donation of an Alouette III to the Ulster Aviation Society in recognition of their efforts to advance the education of the public in the history of aviation and aviation related matters in this country and for promoting for the benefit of the public the permanent preservation of aircraft and aviation equipment in their Aviation Museum.

The Alouette III fleet was purchased in 1963 as an air and sea rescue helicopter and was instrumental in saving 542 lives in over 1700 rescue missions until “stood down” in September 2007. In addition, over 2,882 air ambulance missions were completed, and the fleet was frequently deployed with the Army in operations particularly in border areas. Six of the remaining Alouette III’s are currently in the process of the being sold and the final remaining Alouette III will rightly be retained here in Baldonnel in the Air Corps Museum.

This Alouette will now take its right full place, on display in the Aeronautical Museum run by the Ulster Aviation Society joining other aircraft such as a Wessex Helicopter, a Shorts, Tucano, etc.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the personnel of the Air Corps, in particular General Officer Commanding the Air Corps, Brigadier General Ralph James and the members of the Ulster Aviation Society for the time and effort invested in ensuring a safe home for this Alouette III.

Book Launch Speech:

My visit to Baldonnel here today is doubly important. As well as the handover of the Alouette, I am delighted that Casement Aerodrome is the venue for the launch of Joe Maxwell and Patrick. J. Cummins’ thoroughly researched and highly informative book: The Irish Air Corps - An Illustrated Guide.

This book provides a wealth of material for the aviation enthusiast, historian and scale modeller. Tracing its origins back to 1922, the Irish Air Corps is one of the smallest air arms in Western Europe, yet it has been equipped with a wide variety of aircraft types over its 87-year history.

Here in one volume is a complete account of every aircraft and helicopter type operated by the Air Corps, each illustrated with colour photos or high quality colour profiles for the types for which only black and white photos exist.

The book brings to the publics attention some little known facets of the Air Corps from the past such as gliding at Baldonnel using gliders built in this very hangar, the use of amphibious aircraft during WW2, operation of such iconic aircraft as Spitfires and Hurricanes and the introduction of the first jet to see Air corps service, the de Havilland Vampire.

To tell the story of the aircraft is really to tell only a small fraction of what makes the Irish Air Corps a distinctive part of Irish heritage. The high calibre people who served and who continue to serve within its ranks are central to what makes the Air Corps such a beneficial organisation to the state and much of their story remains to be told. The benefits to the state that are provided by the Air Corps are incalculable.

For many years, the Air Corps was virtually the sole source of piloting and technical skills for Ireland's commercial airlines and their excellent safety record can be traced back to the superb training that their pilots and technicians received while serving with the Air Corps.

History is made in many ways and while much is said in public about international agreements or treaties, lives are changed every time someone receives an organ transplant or receives specialist medical care. The Air Corps plays an often unsung role in this as providers of air ambulance and air emergency facilities to the state. For over 40 years the air Corps provided the Search and Rescue service to the state resulting in over 1800 lives saved. There were over 240 air ambulance and emergency missions in 2007 and 2008 alone. The government jet, the Learjet 45, the helicopters and the CASA have been used for air ambulance missions thus changing the lives of those who have been assisted.

I want to both thank and congratulate both Joe and Patrick for the hard work, research and love they have invested in producing this impressive volume. It is the definitive guide to the Irish Air Corps, it sheds new light on an important aspect of Ireland's aviation heritage and I have great pleasure in launching this book today.

ENDS


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